The Astonishing Power of Male Anger
Can I learn to be strong in the face of it?
My husband and I have very different responses to stress. He gets angry; I get anxious. Sometimes I even cry, if I am feeling particularly frustrated.
I know this is not an unusual male-female dynamic. In fact, it’s so common, it’s stereotypical. Neither he nor I decided to be this way; it’s just how we are. These are our equally honest, equally valid emotions.
The trouble comes in the fact that his anger frightens me. When he’s just entirely pissed about something, his voice becomes sharp, the words bitten off and spat out. He steps heavily; he might slam a door, cuss at an inanimate object; his entire body stiffens up. He’s scary. I don’t want to be anywhere near him when he’s mad.
And yet he has never hurt me. I truly believe, all the way down, that he won’t ever hurt me. My husband has never raised anything other than his voice in my presence. Furthermore, when he does get angry, it’s almost never at me. Yet I’m usually the only one there, and I feel it almost as a physical sensation.
He knows this, of course; and so he tries very hard not to let his anger out, to be gentle and considerate of me. He feels terrible when his anger causes me to cringe and flee.
But that just puts him in a no-win position where he’s not allowed to express — or even have — emotions. Where he has to stuff himself, never vent his frustration. And then, on top of that, if he does slip and let himself feel something, he then has to take care of me — all scared and anxious because he got angry.
I brought this dynamic up the other day in an article about how we are learning to navigate these different emotional reactions, and I got a lot of interesting responses from my friends. Women friends, that is, in much the same situation with their partners. One friend said, “We’ve been married for 34 years, and for 34 years he’s felt like he can’t get angry.” It seems it’s a common theme in relationships between men and women.
I’ve been with my husband for ten years now. As I said, I know he’s not going to hurt me. So why is that raised voice, that palpable anger, so scary?